Varieties of social greetings

  1. Hand in hand (e.g. 2 Kings 10:15)

The handshake has become a universal symbol of welcome, each using the right hand. Originally it showed that neither of them held any harmful weapon. The word sinister, Latin for left-hand side, now means ‘threatening evil’.

Among the Luo tribe in Kenya, a colleague and I met a Christian group who in fifty years had never had white people among them. They did not shake hands with each other in case they got contaminated by evil spirits that may have infected the other person. Their bishop had had a dream that two white men would visit them. When we offered to shake their hands they gladly cooperated. After all, God had sent us!

  1. Nose on nose (compare 1 Samuel 18:1)

This is a Maori greeting in New Zealand. It does not involve the rubbing of noses against each other, but each person merely places his nose in front of the other person’s, and both gently breathe out so that they mingle each other’s spirit together.

  1. Cheek by cheek (as told by American visitor to Africa, Brian McLaren)

Burundi in East Africa is the world’s third poorest country. The twin-sister country of Rwanda is the more famous. It became an icon of genocide in 1994 when some 800,000 people were killed in 100 days – not with guns or bombs, but with machetes and hammers and garden tools; and not by soldiers in uniform, but by neighbours, friends, and even relatives who happened to be identified with the other tribe.

Burundi had been torn by civil war for a decade and by outbreaks of genocide for more than four decades. The animosity between Hutu and Tutsi that had possessed

Rwanda had taken even more lives in Burundi than in Rwanda. Armed rebel groups still showed their power through random killings. You never knew when a grenade would be tossed in a window or when gunfire would rip through your car door. And tropical diseases were a real danger because the healthcare system had deteriorated.

Claude and his wife Kelley welcomed us. On our bumpy ride from the airport Claude explained to us how to greet his mum and dad properly when we arrived. ‘First, shake my father’s hand with two hands, your left hand grasping your right forearm. Then kiss my mother on one cheek and then the other, several times, and each time whisper into her ear the word amahoro,’ he explained. ‘The word means peace. She’ll be welcoming you into the peace of our home, and you’ll be offering your peace to her. After all we’ve been through, amahoro is a very precious word to us.’ When I asked,

‘Exactly how many times should I do this?’ he replied, ‘We basically do it again and again, until we feel the amahoro flowing between us.’ (See Matthew 10:12-13.) 

  1. Heart to heart embrace (see Luke 15:11-24)

Jesus told a story of a selfish young son who pressed his father to give him the inheritance from his will before he died, so that he could enjoy life in his youth. He straightaway took the money, set off to a distant land and wasted it all on wild living. Then a severe famine swept over the land and he began to starve. He got a humiliating job feeding pigs. But when he humbly went home his father greeted him with a two-arm embrace and a banquet, showing him God’s love for Losers – the Least, the Last and the Lost on whom Jesus focused much of his ministry!

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